New Mast

We weren’t actually planning on getting a new mast. We were happy with the old one. The standing rigging–the wires that hold the mast in the air–was of an indeterminate age and needed replacing, but the big, French hunk of aluminum towering 55 feet in the air looked fine to our eyes.

The marina where we stored our boat in Oconto has three webcams pointed at their docks–excellent for compulsive types such as myself. How’s the weather up at the boat? Have Pip and Paul left? When’s that Formosa going to move? When you’re 180 miles away from your future home, the checking-in is constant. So, when Michu went up to help John lower the mast and pull the boat out of the water in the fall of 2014, I spent some time in Big Brother mode.


That little dent makes the whole mast useless.

In the early afternoon, Michu called. “Hi, honey! I see you guys got the mast down!” “Oh, it’s down, all right….” As the mast was being lowered, the hook securing the mast to the crane somehow parted, and the huge, heavy piece of aluminum crashed down.

Michu was on the bow when it happened. The boat was in the lifting well–a vile holding spot for boats waiting to be pulled from the water, where every piece of garbage and dead fish in a marina collects. Michu heard a low thump and turned to see the mast coming towards him. He was just getting ready to jump into the murky water between the boat and the pier, when–*clang!!*–the mast hit the top of the travel lift and stopped.

See the blue paint from th e travel lift?

See the blue paint from the travel lift?

As far as potential disasters go, things could have been worse. No one was hurt–even the guy guiding the base of the mast escaped unscathed. We feel really good about the structural integrity of our deck–the only damage was some chipping of the gelcoat around the mast step. And having the mast fatally injured in the fall was better than having it out of commission in the spring–it would take months to replace, and it would have killed our whole summer of sailing. John had to call his insurance company for the first time ever to make a claim, and we walked away with a new mast, new standing rigging and a new furler. Overall, I guess it saved us money? But it was certainly terrifying in the moment, and a hassle to pick up the pieces.

So. Much. Measuring.

When the mast was shipped, each piece of wire was about two feet too long. Like the arch project, Michu had to commit to potentially wrecking expensive hardware as he tailored it to our specific boat; this time, mistakes might mean the mast coming down at an even less opportune moment. (Michu would like me to mention Pythagoras. So there you go. Keep up with the math, kids!)

One of the most painful things about the New Mast Incident was that we were actually all done with the mast. Michu has spent three days rewiring it, installing a fancy new high-powered VHF cable, and affixing a supernova-bright LED masthead light. It was one of the only things about the boat that was completely finito.

New. And needing a tune.

New. And needing a tune.

We ended up getting a new mast from US Spar, who seemed to know exactly what they were on about with our particular boat. We *might* have gotten a little carried away with all of our newfound “savings” on the standing rigging, and thrown in new running rigging and a solent stay (yet to be installed). The new mast is lighter, a little taller, and very pretty.

This year, when the boat got pulled out of the water, we left the mast up.

Zeroing in on the boatschooling

One of the goals for January has been to finalize homeschooling supplies, and have them waiting tidily in a rubbermaid bin. Of course, the reality has been a bit messier, but we’re approaching a point where we could maybe check it off the list (for now).



We’ve gathered lots of free math materials over the past few years, but when it came down to deciding the best program for our family, we’re feeling like Beast Academy and The Art of Problem Solving will be the best choices. We’ll also be toting along the math curriculum for F.’s middle school, to make sure she’s not missing anything, as well as some Kumon books and the Key series for extra practice.

Literature is a big deal to us, and prepping for that aspect of the kids’ education will probably never be “done;” but while we’re in Wisconsin, we have access (free!) to a great resource called It’s a site that compiles teaching guides for different books. Our current process looks like this: find a likely-looking title of a book we feel is important (we’re sourcing from the staff at our middle school, the amazing CCBC lists, books that we remember loving, and librarian-friend recommendations); figure out if this is a book that’s either available for Kindle (free or not), free electronically from our public library, or a book we’re likely to want as a physical copy; see if a teaching guide is available from; download a guide; and order the book if necessary. Clearly, we could spend weeks doing this, and we will–but it’s important to us all.

Literacy and language arts is a bit of a different catagory–grammar, spelling, etc. We’ve got some workbooks, and have downloaded some additional spelling/vocabulary lists. We don’t expect to spend much time on this, but hey–it’s important to know what a gerund is. Our kids will also be keeping journals–the old-fashioned, pen-and-paper kind, not the bloggy kind.

Bin full of books

Bin full of books

As far as science goes, we expect there to be a lot of hands-on naturalist work, mostly because it’s fun, and we’re stocked up on guidebooks: fish, birds, reptiles, geology, shells–it’s taking up a lot of space, but we think it’ll be worth it. We’re packing along a few kid-centered books on astronomy (yea, dark skies!) and oceanography, plus some plans for science experiments and a microscope. Still debating about the heavy chemistry text.

Social studies and history will be location-dependent. We’re toting along some US-history-and-government books to prep for time in D.C., but after that we’ll be mostly discovering the history of where we’re visiting. So much of common core instruction in this country is focused on using non-fiction texts; and while we’ll be happily ignoring most common core standards, we will be relying on a lot of our lit to provide context and history for our location.

Learning Spanish is important to us. We all love Duolingo, but we don’t expect to have the internet capacity to keep it up. Instead, we’ve got the Rosetta Stone for homeschooling (thanks, Rebeca!), a few workbooks for the kids, and a wide range of dictionaries. Not sure how this will work out in real life, but at least we feel equipped.

Fiddlin' with friends

Fiddlin’ with friends

Music, it turns out, is a bit of a tough one for us. F is in her fourth year of violin, and third year of fiddle class, so we think she’s pretty well prepared to continue on her own for a bit. We’ll be bringing some sheet music, downloading some YouTube videos, and most likely be checking in occasionally with her teacher via Skype. T, on the other hand, is in year three of cello. Oh my lord, the cello. F already owns a neatly-contained violin, but purchasing and storing (and tuning) a cello is proving to be a bit of a hurdle. T is also not as far along in his musical education, so going it alone is going to be tough. We’ve tried steering him towards the ukulele, but he’s not having it. I guess our current plan is to attempt the same type of program as our violinist, and not worry too much if it all falls apart.

Then there’s the category of general resources. We’re learning how to use Kahn Academy Lite, and will be checking if we can put all of Kiwix on the kids’ Chromebook. We are HUGE fans of Crash Course, and we’re debating about the old-school WorldBook encyclopedia that we have…hopefully there will be room aboard!

So, internet community–what do you think? Any gaping holes? Any books we should absolutely be including? Weigh in!

Hard water

Ice skating on Lake Monona. The iceboats were cookin'.

Ice skating on Lake Monona. The iceboats were cookin’.

No Time to Hibernate

Last weekend I made a social visit to the Twin Cities. A good friend mentioned that the nice part about Midwestern single-digit temperatures is that it gives me time off from working on the boat. If only that were true.

The cold merely slows things down; the main thing it slows down is me. I run out to my unheated garage to make a couple of quick cuts on the table saw, then maybe get set up for running the router before I get too cold. I don’t mind setting things up when I am cold, but I like my hands to be nice and warm when I am running power tools.

Winter does prevent things like epoxy, caulk, paint and varnish from setting up. However, you can get some amazing things done with a portable heater. Other projects will have to wait until we have overnight lows in the 40’s–although I can have them all set up to go, so that when the temperature is right: *Boom* three new through-hulls caulked into place.

While it is true that I work less on the boat, I can still do a lot of boat work, primarily in the basement.



Initial layout.


Basement epoxy work.





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Autopilot tiller arm

Epoxied in place.

Epoxied in place.


Tiller arm bolted to rudder post

I fabricated this board in the basement. I made it to stiffen up the bulkhead, and added a fancy stand-off to correctly locate the fixed end of the steering ram. There can be a lot of force transmitted from the rudder to the steering ram. If one end of the ram tears off the wall, it is not good. I brought a little portable heater to the boat to heat up the engine compartment, the epoxy and the board. Once it was all good and warm, I epoxied the whole thing to the existing bulkhead and tabbed it in place. The autopilot tiller arm bolted directly on to the rudder post. It turns out you can still drill holes and tighten bolts in weather well below zero.

Steering ram in place.

Steering ram installed.

Next trip to the boat: mount the autopilot computer and heading sensor; mount the new steering stop; maybe do some wiring (if I have the time and am not too frozen).






Port side storage:

Milou is a little lacking when it comes to easy-access storage. I am converting the port pilot berth in the saloon to storage. I am making the whole thing in the basement; then I’ll bring it to the boat and screw it in place. Who am I kidding–the parts have all been back and forth a couple of times already for fitting.


Initial layout.


Fitting. It is very cold here.




Basement glue job.


Shelf: final shape plus 3 coats of cetol finish




Next trip to the boat: bring the top shelf to the boat and leave it there (it’s done); final fitting of cabinet dividers; also, grab a door from the starboard side, so I can match up the finger-pull placement on the new port-side doors in the basement.

Electrical panel:

I have friends with a used cruising boat; they too have removed many pounds of wiring that leads to nowhere. From time to time, I need to get behind my electrical panel to wire in something new (like a new refrigerator or masthead light). The way things are right now, I have to remove a tricky shelf to give myself access to a 4-inch-wide gap behind the electrical panel, filled with a very confusing rats’ nest of wires.

The board under the Book-of-Lists, that is the new door for the electrical panel.

The board under the Book-of-Lists is the new door for the electrical panel.

I had one experience where all of the house lights stopped working. After checking switches and batteries, I determined that a wire had come loose. Reaching into the rats’ nest for the offending DC wire, I managed to find and electrocute myself on 110v AC. It sucked. I plan to replace the DC rats’ nest with a new panel. Because there are already holes in the wooden panel, I’m going to make a door to hold the breakers and gauges that hinges open so that I can organize and have easy access to the wiring.

Next trip to the boat: remove AC panel; cut out panel area; fit new door; bring door home to fit panels; and lay out gauges.


The refrig project is pretty much on hold. There are still insulating panels for the forward and aft walls of the ice box that need to be fabricated, and I need to finish up the lid. That is all basement work. Once I have them done I will need some warmth to glue them in place. Also there is a big hole in the bottom of the boat, for the new combination galley sink through-hull/keel cooler.


Something should be plugging this hole.


Two more sides of the box to cover.

Next trip to the boat: nothing for the refrigerator.



Hope I can fit the solar charge controller on the wall next to the yellow 40 amp battery charger. Why yes, I did make that very nice aluminum backing plate with square holes for carriage bolts, in order to through bolt to the autopilot ram bracket (going for bombproof).


Once the port-side storage is out of the basement, I’ll have room to lay out the panels and get them set up on their mounts. Before then, I need to place the MPPT charge controller somewhere. I’d like to put it in the engine room but I may be out of space after the autopilot stuff is all installed.

Next trip to boat: spec placement of Solar charge controller.

Dashboard/Instrument pod:

Currently our navigation is done by iPad. The thing works pretty darn well.  Because I am a novice (nervous?) navigator, I also plot on a paper chart at the nav station (even when in sight of the Wisconsin shore). And I have OpenCPN on this here computer, but have yet to use it in real life. The problem with the iPad is that it does not have a home in the cockpit, so it can kind of “bounce” around. I decided that I needed a place to park it. I also need a home for the autopilot control head and the new fish finder/depth sounder display; also, the anchor windlass controls, USB charge port, a 12V outlet (for handheld spotlight), and the new alternator “on” switch. I am building a dashboard, but I am not sure if I like how it fits.


Glueing curves.

Basement. Glueing curves.

Starting to make a box.

Starting to make a box. Cold at the table saw.






Eyeballing placement. Does it stick up to high?

Side view.

Side view.

I am going to try and lower the whole box, so it is less obstructive to our sight lines when driving the boat. That means I may just cut off and throw away my cool curved wooden bracket. We’ll see.

Next trip up to the boat: bring up binnacle compass; see if I can lower instrument pod without interfering with the compass.

It is probably my training as a nurse, but I like to write and think about the boat in a system-by-system manner (hence, the four part electricity series). The reality is that getting Milou ready is a lot more messy. I am constantly juggling at least four or five projects at once, even when it is cold outside. Every now and then I catch myself thinking, “If we put the trip off another year… I could get everything perfectly done…then just give Milou a buff in the spring before we head out.” The reality is, I will never be done, and owning a boat that you do not live on is expensive. Every extra year on shore takes money out of the bank, and keeps us from the goal of getting out there. So: June 12th is the deadline. Milou will be floating, most of the projects will be done. The rest we’ll have to attack while we travel.


Telling everyone

We like you very much but...we won't be sending you a card next year! Our family plans to spend two years traveling on our Beneteau Frist 38 sailboat. Postage from the Bahamas costs too much! Follow our trip at Be sure to sign up for our email updates (and keep us out of your spam folder)! Happy holidays from all of us!

That was the salvo we included in our holiday cards this year, sent out to friends and family across the nation this December. If they didn’t know about the trip already, they know now.

We’ve heard advice from many different quarters to keep the planning stages  under our hats, but we’ve been spectacularly bad at keeping quiet. We have so many friends who are sailors, friends who homeschool, friends who travel or have lived abroad; we weren’t too worried about the reactions we’d find close to home. For the most part, we’ve been correct: people are almost universally jazzed, and think it will be a great learning opportunity for our kids.

Putting our plan out into the larger universe of People We Know was a bit more disconcerting, but we figured it had to be done. We really don’t want to send those holiday cards out next year. We’re not completely sure how the rest of our far-flung family is taking it; we’ve heard some solid support, some reasonable concerns, and plenty of fair questions from the non-sailors in our lives. We haven’t heard from too many nay-sayers; I assume they’re either keeping it to themselves, or giving my mom a sympathetic earful.

The one thing we’ve heard most consistently from the out-of-towners is, “I could never do that.” They have lots of reasons–money, discomfort with uncertainty, a job that’s difficult to walk away from, attachment to their surroundings, family needs. Mostly, their priorities are around security, which is totally fair and understandable. It’s just…it’s been a funny and striking contrast to many of our nearest and dearest here in Madison–folks who hear about our goals and start thinking about their own plans, ways to do extraordinary things with their own growing kids, travels that can be taken before the high school years hit.

There are two sides to this coin–on the one side, building a stable life within your community; on the other, exploring the wider world. And while there are plenty of concrete things we hope our kids learn on the trip–how to identify reef fish, Spanish, how to tell where the chicken bus is going–we also want to show them the flip side often hidden from American middle-class life. Instead of saying, “I could never…” when they grow up, maybe instead they’ll say “Why not?”

Who wouldn't want to spend their time living here?

Who wouldn’t want to spend their time living here?